On 23rd February 2016, Ian Soulsby, a former 'Snowdrop' who had served with the RAF Police, passed away. Several years earlier, Ian had contacted the author to share some of his memories of his time in the RAF. This one story was included in the condolences on the private Facebook Group 'Snowdrops Gone but not Forgotten'.
In early 1955, the RAF Police dog section at RAF Sandwich in Kent was closed down and the four dog handlers employed there were posted to new assignments. Corporal I Soulsby and Corporal K Matthews, together with their dogs were posted to a small radar unit at Scarinish on the isle of Tiree, way up in the Inner Hebrides.
The two NCOs were issued with travel warrants and given instructions to travel to their new unit by train and a ferry
A few days later, on a dull Thursday evening, they were driven to the station by the other two dog handlers; Corporal W Sanderson and Corporal A Killam, to catch the train up to London. After seeking out the guard on the train the two NCOs and their muzzled charges were surprised to be escorted to a first class compartment that had been especially reserved for the first part of their journey.
After a short but uneventful trip in relative comfort, the train pulled into Waterloo Station, and the two NCOs were met by a RAF driver who transported them across the capital to catch the night train up to Glasgow. Because the train was packed to capacity and the guard’s van was also full of mail and luggage, the guard suggested that the NCOs and their dogs should travel in an empty parcel van at the front of the train.
Under the circumstances the NCOs had no choice and therefore agreed
Consequently, the sight of two RAF Police NCOs in uniform together with two fierce looking and muzzled German Shepherd dogs attracted a lot of attention from their fellow passengers as they made their way past several carriages up to the front of the train. Additionally, Ambrose, the dog handled by Corporal Soulsby was pure white and that in itself was a rare sight to see in that particular breed.
After exercising the dogs briefly on the end of the platform the guard instructed the NCOs to board the train. The interior of the van in which they were travelling was sparse and not particularly clean; and a big difference from ‘first class’ compartment used during the first phase of their journey.
There was a long bench style seat running up each side of the carriage under the windows but there were no toilet facilities
The guard provided a large bucket of water for the dogs and as he left them he closed and locked the door behind him. Shortly after, the train pulled out of the station and as it began its journey north the two NCOs made themselves as comfortable as they could and settled down to sleep. After a long night the train pulled into Glasgow station just before seven on Friday morning and after being released from the van the two NCOs were met by the sergeant dog specialist from No 1 RAF Police District who was taking them to RAF Bishop Briggs on the outskirts of the city for the weekend.
After arriving at the unit their kit was taken to the police accommodation while the two NCOs and their dogs were taken over to the dog section
The sight that met them was not particularly impressive; it seemed that the station commander had been using the spare compounds to house his chickens and as such, they were in no state to accommodate the dogs.
Although highly unusual, the dogs were taken over to the police accommodation and during the weekend were chained to the side of their respective handler’s beds when not being exercised. On Sunday evening, fully refreshed, the two NCOs and their dogs were transported back to Glasgow station to catch the midnight train over to Oban. On that occasion they were delighted when directed to a compartment in the first carriage that had been reserved for them.
Shortly after, the train pulled out of the station and later stopped for an hour in Stirling where the two NCOs, again attracting considerable public attention, were able to exercise their dogs out on the platform. After the break they resumed their journey and arrived in Oban just after five on Monday morning.
The journey from the train to the ferry, the SS Claymore, was within walking distance, which gave both the handlers and their dogs a chance to stretch their legs.
Soon after boarding, the ferry cast-off and the two NCOs together with their dogs made their way out on deck to take in the sea air and the splendid view. However, they were soon approached by a rather cautious looking steward who informed them that a private saloon had been provided for them and that breakfast was also being served, both for them and their dogs. As they settled down to eat, the ferry pulled into its first port of call, Tobermory on the isle of Mull.
After finishing a hearty breakfast and freshening up, the two NCOs returned to the deck as the ferry started to berth at Arinagour on the Isle of Coll. From Coll they began the final leg of the journey that would take them to Tiree and that is when the two NCOs were treated to the sight of a couple of large basking sharks swimming close to the ferry.
It was just after eleven in the morning when the ferry finally berthed at Scarinish
It seemed that news of their arrival had preceded them because the quayside was packed with local people all eager to catch a glimpse of the two RAF Police dogs and of course their handlers. As the gangplank was lowered two airmen from the radar unit boarded the ferry and collected the kit belonging to the two NCOs and loaded it into a waiting truck.
At that point, the Station Commander, Flight Lieutenant Bull carefully approached and welcomed them all to Tiree before he began introducing them to some of the more prominent islanders. After a long and tiring journey the ‘celebrity status’ was quite an experience for the two young NCOs. The islanders gathered around to take a closer look at the two muzzled dogs but decided to keep their distance after the dogs started growling at them.
Indeed, the islanders had never before seen a pure white German Shepherd dog and later it became known that many referred to it rather unkindly as the ‘Devil Dog’. Having said that, after quickly settling into their new posting, both the NCOs and their dogs became very popular with both the RAF and the civilian community.
EDITOR: Steve's book can be bought here.